Imperialism was a sensitive topic in late-nineteenth century America. Anti-imperialists thought that it would be hypocritical for the US, a former British colony, to gain colonies of its own to govern without the consent of the people who lived there. Many anti-imperialists also argued that it would be too expensive to develop these remote places and defend them from takeover by other imperialistic nations, thus creating a perpetual drain on a very small federal budget. Still others used race as their anti-imperialist argument, stating that the US should remain predominantly white and that eventually these colonies would demand to be states, thus bringing in more minorities to challenge the social and political status quo in the United States.
The arguments for imperialism were just as strong. Many imperialists looked at the poor treatment of indigenous people in Belgian, British, and German colonies in Africa and thought that they United States could do better—of course, American atrocities committed during the Filipino War proved that the United States was just as capable of acting barbarically against natives. Imperialists such as Teddy Roosevelt were influenced by works such as Rudyard Kipling's "The White Man's Burden" which stated that it was the responsibility of white men to bring "civilization" to the developing world whether they wanted it or not. Others were influenced by Alfred Thayer Mahan who stated that the US needed coaling stations throughout the world in order to trade globally and ensure continued industrial growth. Others wanted the US to gain new sources of raw materials such as timber and minerals. Another argument for imperialism was that it gave missionaries greater access to the developing world.
While international defense necessitated building a modern navy, imperialism was an overall positive for the United States. Raw materials and new ports allowed the US greater access to Asian markets, though it also put the US on a collision course with another imperialistic nation, Japan. Domestically, imperialism was an issue that transcended sectionalism, thus helping the nation heal from the Civil War. While there were some benefits to the indigenous people who lived in the colonies, the costs ultimately outweighed the benefits. Local leaders were marginalized and even killed. The US strongly punished any attempts at self-determination in the colonies. The natural wealth of the colonies was exploited for American business interests, thus leaving the natives poorer than they had been before US occupation.